October 21, 20. 40 .
The sun had set long back. Darkness now enveloped the streets, curtained the dimly lit shops with their flickering yellow kerosene lamps and musty air heavy with the scent of cheap incense. In front of one jalebi stall, a few children played with a scrawny tabby cat.
My feet encountered a lot of things. Discarded chappals, scraps of month-old newspapers stained with the oil of the delicacies that had been wrapped in it, jackets of roasted peanuts, plastic cups, and leaf-plates….the streets were not known for spotless cleanliness. My stomach did a jolt as I replayed Jenny’s conversation in my head. Where could she…?
October 20, 15. 45
I had just got back from work when she called me. As my key turned in the lock, I could hear the machine coming on, and Jen’s voice on it:
‘Oh, hey Chris, you aren’t back yet, huh? Just…something came up and…’
I got the phone just as she was about to go off ‘Hullo?’ I gasped, picking up the phone and falling promptly onto the fluffy couch.
‘Hey, you’re there!’
She couldn’t hide the obvious gush.
‘You busy?’ she asked hesitantly.
‘Um…no’, I said quietly, tearing open an envelope with my teeth. ‘, I’m too exhausted if you’re thinking of dinner out at some place, but I’m game for your cooking’
She laughed softly. ‘It’s a work-night’
I gave a mock sigh. ‘For the first seventeen years of my life, it’s been school-nights. The next four years were college-nights, and now these past three years has been work-nights. I’m twenty-four already. You’d think someone up there would say “Give the poor kid a break”, but no. God’s out for lunch or what?’
‘You’re in a mood today’ she said, amusedly, and I could picture her : dressed in an embroidered top designed by her mother and a skirt right from the streets of Delhi, purchased with a single 50- rupee note, her eyes smiling as she pushed away the mop of curly hair that kept falling in her face. She was life. She was the bright, concerned, go-getter the world needed.
‘I’m tired. It was a day full of meetings. You know how I get after a day of listening to people blather about how the recession is affecting peanuts and Bugs Bunny’
I heard her stifle a giggle. ‘I’m pretty sure that’s not what people talked about. You’re co-CEO of an infrastructure and finance company, if you remember, not the crazy asylum admit’
I smiled. ‘Okay, okay. So, what’s it today? Eating out or cooking for your poor ill-fed boyfriend?’
‘Ill-fed’, she snorted. ‘, Tell me the flavor of the huge pastry you gobbled in the cafeteria today?’
‘Mmmm…..chocolate. But it was a brownie. It’s not like it shows I eat a lot of sweets’ I frowned.
‘You’re a natural ectomorph’
‘I’ll pretend I know what that means’ I grinned.
‘Chris, I don’t think I’ll make it there today. We were informed about a little girl being kept from school by her father’s creditors.’
‘Yeah, so we thought we’d do something about it. The whole office is furious.’
‘You guys should really take up tree hugging’, I said, shaking my head. Jen did voluntary work for a human rights organization, and went around the whole of
the city rescuing people from child-marriage, or disownment or inheritance-trouble or abandonment or whatever. I appreciated the work she was doing for the society, but sometimes resented it. She was in constant risk of getting in trouble with the big sharks of the underworld pulling strings behind human trafficking and organ-selling operations.
‘So it’s off to save the little girl’
‘Chris…’ she sounded reproachful of my more than obvious lack of enthusiasm.
‘Go on, go on’, I assured her, sincerely. I did believe she needed her own space. ‘,If you’re done before I starve to death here, then give me a call and I’ll meet up with you somewhere…Pizza Hut, most probably’
I was about to put the phone back in its cradle when I heard her call my name.
‘Thanks. For believing in me’
‘Um…when you say things like this, I know it’s time to hang up and save myself the embarrassment of hearing you praise me’
‘Hang up’ she laughed. I let the sound of her laugh fade away before I hung up.
I looked at the letter I had pulled out. Electricity, water and phone bills. I sighed. The money itself didn’t bother me. It was the prospect of having to go pay it, standing in the crowds, getting squashed…
Sometimes, being an adult with his own house and bank account seemed too less a reward for giving up shelter under Dad and Mom and expecting Dad to pay for everything.
I downed three glasses of lemonade loaded with sugar before making the ascent to the second storey and my bedroom. I’m a sugar-fanatic. Somehow I’d stayed on the thin side of muscularity despite my sugar craze. I wasn’t rail thin, but not the all-out surfer-type either. Somewhere in between. Jen called my compulsion a sign for future concern. I called it crazy, but couldn’t stop.
A vampire would probably turn vegetarian after drinking my blood.
Up in my bedroom, I pulled off my work-clothes, pulled on a grey jersey and pajamas and crashed. No socializing for this guy. I knew I’d have to get up when my mom called at eight. She knew I’d be asleep till then. She was my wake up call to get up and finish whatever work I’d brought home.
Mom was so far away, at the southern tip of India, God’s Own Country. No crowds there, not as much as Delhi anyway. Rain, and green fields, and coconut trees…